June 24, 2021

Economix Blog: On Working for Yourself, for More Flexible Hours



Dollars to doughnuts.

I’ve gotten a lot of e-mails in response to my article about how middle-class mothers balance work and family, raising many interesting and important issues: What about the challenges for working fathers? What about single parents who don’t have much of a support network? Are companies demanding more from childless employees to accommodate employees with children? Should men be encouraged to be more active co-parents so it’s not so challenging for women to remain in the work force?

There’s only so much I could squeeze into one article about a complicated topic, but I’ll address some of these issues in blog posts and follow-up articles.(I’d also direct readers to some of our past coverage of these topics, as linked above and covered on the Motherlode blog.)

One interesting point that came up repeatedly was the attraction of self-employment, which some readers mentioned in Facebook comments and on the article itself. For example, a reader named Suzanne in New Jersey writes:

I am a lawyer. After many years of working for others, a few years I went to work for myself. My kids are teens now, but I have probably tried every permutation to juggle family and job demands. I had a live-in nanny, a live-out nanny, used an after school program. I have worked full-time and part-time for others. Not only do I have a demanding job, but both my husband and I commute over an hour to work each day. That being said, besides full-time care, we have been dependent on carpools and friends to get our kids to their after school activities. Now that my high school aged child is driving, it is definitely easier as she is able to drive the younger one. The flexibility of working for myself, however, drove the decision to do so. If I want to leave the office early so that I can watch my kids’ sports games, I can. I may have to make up the time somewhere else, but I feel like I control things, not someone else.

This resonated with some of the interviews I did while reporting for my article.

I spoke with a lot of middle-class working mothers around the country about the challenges in managing their work and family responsibilities before deciding to focus on the desire for flexible hours or remote work (and on Sara Uttech of Fall River, Wis., as someone who ultimately received more flexible hours). Several of these women made a deliberate decision to work for themselves to have more control over their schedules, like Jordan Sellergren, who does freelance graphic design and marketing in Iowa City. Another mother I spoke with, Leah Dugan, was working at a telehealth start-up in Chicago, where she helped manage a call center. She said her dream job was to become a freelance yoga instructor, partly because of the flexible hours she said she believed such a career would allow her.

What’s surprising, then, is the gulf between such sentiments and the actual self-employment data. As of 2009, 7.9 percent of women were self-employed (including incorporated and unincorporated self-employed workers) compared with about 13.7 percent of men.

One drawback of self-employment, of course, is that it’s more difficult to get health insurance, and there is evidence that women, particularly mothers of younger children, have a strong preference for receiving such benefits. According to Paul Fronstin’s analysis of survey data he wrote up for the Employee Benefit Research Institute, women were more likely than men (78 percent to 61 percent) to report that health benefits were very important when choosing a job. With the creation of the insurance exchanges next year under the Affordable Care Act, perhaps we’ll see more women deciding to work for themselves.

As an aside, other career paths that have been described to me as particularly family-friendly include certain medical specialties (which of course require a long and expensive upfront investment) and computer programming. Computer programming could be conducive to more flexible, family-friendly scheduling partly because of the nature of the work itself, and partly because many companies have such a hard time finding highly skilled programmers that such workers have more bargaining power.

But as you probably know, there are relatively few women in computer programming or related fields: Women represent just 22.5 percent of computer programmers and 25.6 percent of workers in all computer and mathematical occupations (which includes Web developers, information security analysts, etc.). Presumably there are other forces at work discouraging women from going into these fields, but that’s a topic for another day.

Article source: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/09/on-working-for-yourself-for-more-flexible-hours/?partner=rss&emc=rss

She Owns It: Sometimes, Customers Want You to Charge More

She Owns It

Portraits of women entrepreneurs.

Deirdre Lord: Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times Deirdre Lord: “I don’t think people value what they don’t pay for.”

At the most recent meeting of the She Owns It business group, we discussed pricing a new product or service, the dangers of giving something for nothing, and the reasons customers may prefer that you raise your prices.

Deirdre Lord, who owns the Megawatt Hour, talked about the particular challenges of pricing a new product or service. Her start-up offers an online platform that helps business clients manage and control their energy costs. Energy consultants offer some aspects of this service, but she is unaware of any direct competitors.

Ms. Lord said she initially thought that as a new company offering a new service, the Megawatt Hour should have a new pricing model. At first, the company charged customers based on a percentage of their projected energy bills. But businesses that purchase energy are accustomed to paying energy brokers and consultants rates that reflect a percentage of their actual energy use and not just the cost of that use. Ms. Lord’s customers began to ask how the company’s rates translated — how many tenths of a penny per kilowatt hour were they paying?

As a result, the Megawatt Hour adopted the use pricing model as well. It’s a small change, Ms. Lord said, but one that makes it easier for customers to experiment with the unfamiliar. “Asking customers to do too many new things just doesn’t work,” she said.

And there will be another change. Effective June 1, the Megawatt Hour will stop making certain features available free. “We’ve gotten people on that product and now that we’re re-evaluating products and pricing, we’re taking it away for the reason we’ve discussed: I don’t think people value what they don’t pay for,” she said.

“It’s true,” said Beth Shaw, who owns YogaFit.

The Megawatt Hour invited users of its free version to call to learn about switching to a paid offering. “We’ll see what happens,” Ms. Lord said. But regardless of whether there are any takers, she said, “We’re not really getting anything by having it be out there.”

Offering a product or service free without a specific goal in mind can be as detrimental as indiscriminate discounting, Ms. Lord said. “If you’re going to give a discount, you need to get something from the customer,” she said.

“You’re absolutely right,” Ms. Shaw said. “They need to fill out a survey or something.”

“Or you need to get them from the 30-hour training to the 50-hour training, or create some trade-off,” Ms. Lord said.

“I think it also depends on who your customer is,” said Alexandra Mayzler, who owns Thinking Caps Group, which offers high-end tutoring. “Certain people expect certain prices.”

She recalled Thinking Caps’ early prices: “I was charging a nominal amount. I must have made like minimum wage.” But then she had an “aha moment.” She recalled a parent who told her she was doing a great job, but would not be taken seriously because her prices were too low.

If you’re in a market where people are used to paying a certain price for something, they may be happy to get it for a little less, Ms. Mayzler said. That’s considered a deal. “But if it’s a lot less, you’re like, ‘What’s wrong here?’” she added. “Three times in 10 years, I had people say to me, out of the goodness of their heart, ‘I’m going to go with you, but I’m a little alarmed at the pricing, because what am I not getting?’”

Ms. Mayzler, who started her business from her college dorm room, explained why it was hard for her to raise her prices. “I had started at like $25 an hour or something as a student,” she said. “Mentally, how do you go from that, to charging the going rate, which is anywhere from $150 to $400?” She said that while she valued her time and knew she was good at what she did, “It’s very hard to wake up one day one September and charge $50 and the next charge $350.” Nonetheless, she did manage to raise prices — to $150 to $195 in New York, and less in Texas.

Still, she realized she had to increase her prices, and that Thinking Caps would serve a particular type of client. “That means that a lot of our clients do have higher expectations,” she said.

You can follow Adriana Gardella on Twitter.

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/20/the-delicate-balance-between-charging-too-little-and-charging-too-much/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Global Manager: Being Nice Is Not a Sign of Weakness

Julie Meyer is founder and chief executive of Ariadne Capital, a venture capital firm based in London.

Q. How do you define good leadership?

A. I once found myself at a breakfast with Colin Powell [then the U.S. secretary of state], and he said, “Leaders are those people who create the conditions of trust that great things can happen.” That just stayed with me. The biggest difficulty in human relations of all kinds is not to just create the condition of trust, but to hold that trust together.

Q. How do you do that at your company?

A. I really try and hold myself accountable for integrity. I try not to ask people to do things that I wouldn’t do, in terms of work hours, intensity and so on. I try hard to be an example and to be clear about the objectives of the business and what is expected. It’s silly things, like apologizing when it’s my mistake, to just make sure everybody knows it’s not about ego or hierarchy, that it’s about us working together.

Q. What else?

A. I’m trying to be very transparent. In fact, I’ve got people who say I’m too transparent. But even when I was 23 years old, I wasn’t going to work for somebody who wouldn’t tell me what’s going on with the business. To expect from somebody that they give their heart and soul to this business without telling them what’s going on with the business?

I also think it’s about treating people the way you want to be treated. If you’re new to a team and the chief executive takes you out for dinner in the first couple of months, it’s going to make you feel good.

Q. What challenges have you experienced with this management style?

A. I think I come across as a nice person, and some people interpret nice as weak. It’s not that I’m not nice, but I’m definitely not weak. Maybe it’s because I’m a woman, maybe it’s because I’m nice, but occasionally people would interpret it as weakness and then they hit a wall and they hit it hard.

Q. Can you explain that in more detail?

A. I am here to create shareholder value and occasionally people take the view that maybe everything I do is for Julie. I’ve had people say to me, “I had no idea you would enforce the rules.”

I think the challenge for me is that men do it differently. Men give out an aura that if you do that, I’ll cut your head off. I don’t want to do that. I don’t believe in control. I believe in influence. I believe in carrots, not sticks, and that can get interpreted as weakness.

Q. Why do you think carrot is better than stick?

A. I don’t think stick works. I could go around like a titan and keep them under my thumb and say, “I’m the boss, so you do what I want.” Half of them would leave immediately.

When I was younger, I went to Paris, and instead of a linear career, I worked myself into these zigzags. As a result, I think of myself as an individual capitalist. A lot of these 20-year olds over in the room next door think of themselves like I thought of myself when I was 22. I thought, “Julie Meyer Inc. Ltd.” And yes, I’ve worked for people along the way, but I always felt like I was working for myself.

Q. It sounds like you felt very entrepreneurial from a very early age. Was there something in your upbringing to nurture that?

A. My father was an entrepreneur. I didn’t realize that because he is a doctor, who set up a medical practice. He had all sorts of issues with his partner at his medical practice. I saw the ups and the downs of business. I thought it was part of being a doctor, but it wasn’t. The doctor bit worked. It was the business world that didn’t work. So I understood at a very early age that being an entrepreneur isn’t easy. The good news is, I didn’t think it would be easy. I thought that the struggle and the painful thing you go through to build a business is normal.

Q. In your job you come across a lot of leaders and other entrepreneurs. What has impressed you most about some of them?

A. What impressed me in general is the commitment that people make to their values. They have a vision of how the world should be and they feel compelled to realize that vision. That can be an institution they feel compelled to create or a piece of software or something else.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/06/business/global/06iht-manager06.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Global Manager: Starting Up, but There for the Long Haul

Ron Zeghibe is co-founder and chairman of Hailo, a taxi booking phone application.

Q. Before helping to set up Hailo in 2011, you used to fix existing companies. What is the difference between running a start-up and a company that has been in business for some time?

A. Hailo is my first start-up, and the combination of factors you need to be successful are slightly different. At the beginning it is all about developing a product that didn’t exist and then proving that it could work as a concept.

Q. What are the challenges when it comes to leading at a start-up?

A. What you really need to understand is that you’re running a marathon. This isn’t a sprint. It isn’t about getting to the product point and then, boom, you’re done. It isn’t about just getting it launched.

This is a long road. This is a five-year game plan, so you better have the stamina for that.

Q. What else is different at a start-up?

A. It’s a roller-coaster ride. There are going to be moments when we will euphorically say, “Wow, we hit that. We just raised that latest round of financing with an incredible valuation from an amazing name.” But then you realize: “O.K., so now what are you going to do?” You put the money in the bank and you got this plan that you said you were trying to achieve. So pressure is on. And then you have things happening that are completely beyond your control, and it’s gut-wrenching.

Q. How do you deal with that sort of bad surprise?

A. You have to be a little detached. As much as I speak about being passionate and motivated and engaged, there’s a balancing act of getting people tied into a vision, but also to understand that you just can’t push the pedal to the metal all the time — that this is a long haul.

As much as we have great moments when we all celebrate, you have to say, “Hey guys, remember this now,” because there will come a point when we hit the buffers or something will happen or maybe we will screw up. But when that happens we will pick ourselves up and keep going. We’re never as bad as people may say, but we’re never as good as people may say, either. So you have to take the rough with the smooth. You have to understand that all you need to be is about 80 percent as good as you would love to be and you will be fine.

Q. When you started Hailo, what corporate culture were you trying to build?

A. All the founders have agreed that whatever our titles happen to be, we would run this as a partnership. The challenge of the project that we’re taking on, which has to do with new mobile technologies, is that they go very quickly from designing and building a product to actually running and operating a global business. So how on earth do you do that? Where in the rule book of past experiences can you find a company that has done that really successfully?

And I’m not talking about a Facebook, because a lot of these social networking sites are really offered from one place. The answer for us is, it’s all about bandwidth. If you had a very hierarchical culture you could never do that. You would become victim of the qualities — strengths and weaknesses — of whoever the guy at the top is.

Q. When you interview job candidates, how do you find out whether a person fits with the Hailo culture?

A. It’s a seven-day-a-week job. People should be aware of the time and the energy this takes. We want people to get very excited about that and to be proud of what we are producing and what we’re trying to achieve. We want people who can actually see greater value in the product than simply to get someone a taxi.

Q. Can you give an example?

A. The way we are internally talking about it is that we are part of the transport infrastructure. By creating greater efficiency of the infrastructure, you can change the quality of life in a city. So you’re trying to find a person who relates to that. Listening to what I just said, do you think, “Oh, what nonsense,” or do you actually relate to it?

Q. What specific questions do you ask in interviews?

A. What I often let people do is let them sell me their C.V. I say, “You wrote this thing, so now sell it to me!” And I ask them whether they have used Hailo. You’d be surprised by how few people downloaded the application, let alone used it. They just say, “Oh, I heard about it, it’s really good.”

Q. You started your career in finance, and after getting an M.B.A. from Harvard you joined Salomon Brothers. Were there any leadership lessons that help you in your role now?

A. Salomon Brothers hired me but, speaking of poorly managed organizations, that was definitely one. I was 30 years old at the time and I had built a good relationship with the chief financial officer of Royal Bank of Scotland. They had a big financing, a debt financing, and we went in there to do a pitch. I had the chairman of Salomon International with me to help and he sat there and he had done no homework on it. He didn’t know who this guy was, he didn’t even know what the deal was — and this was traditional stuff.

In the end it was just cringingly bad — so much so that the chief financial officer pulled me aside and said, “Look, Ron, he did you no favors. He killed you.” But I said, “How could I not bring him?” and he said, “I understand.” And we lost the business.

Q. What about positive experiences?

A. I was 35 years old when I got the chance to run my own buyout. It was Maiden, the large independent outdoor advertising firm. It was a beaten-up family business and the son didn’t want to take it over from the father.

Q. What happened then? What ideas did you have when you took over?

A. The first thing was to engage the staff. They had been kept in the dark. It was a very hierarchical, traditionally run English company. The name on the billboards was the name of the company and the name of the boss, and everyone called him Mr. Maiden. The first thing I did was I walked in and said, “My name is Ron.” Then I went around to all their offices and sat everyone down and listened to their experiences.

You learn all sorts of things, like that they were so starved of cash they wouldn’t even let them have a copy machine in one of the offices. So I told them to get one. It was a small gesture that made their lives a lot simpler, but also a sign that they said something and it got responded to.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/08/business/global/08iht-manager08.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Sustainable Profits: It’s Not Too Soon to Think About Crowdfunding

Sustainable Profits

The challenges of a waste-recycling business.

I have taken a real interest in equity crowdfunding and its potential impact on social entrepreneurs. One reason: I would have loved to have been able to take advantage of it when I was doing my initial financing of TerraCycle.  Had crowdfunding existed then, I would have been able to raise money faster, on better terms, and from a wider range of investors — all good things when it comes to financing a small business.

Here’s a quick update on where things stand (I have written about crowdfunding previously). Broadly speaking, a federal equity crowdfunding law that passed in April as part of the JOBS Act will allow an American company to use an online crowdfunding platform to raise up to $1 million from the general public without these shareholders counting toward the company’s private shareholder cap. I see this as a big opportunity because now entrepreneurs will be able to gain capital and momentum with an early shareholder base that is invested in the company’s success.

Although the law was passed in April, many of its specific provisions require further consideration and official rule-making by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. The S.E.C. has until the end of 2012 to complete its rules. From what I’ve heard, the agency is working hard to hit this goal but it could spill over into 2013. After this, Finra has to write the rules that govern how the online intermediaries get registered and set up. Then these rules have to be reviewed and approved. Unfortunately, this could run into the second half of 2013.

But there are things entrepreneurs can do now to lay the groundwork for successful crowdfunding later. Here are three ideas:

1) Start crowdfunding now. You can use the current crowdfunding model, which is sometimes called “perks-based” crowdfunding or “donation” crowdfunding. In other words, you can pre-sell your product or give it as a perk to people who donate money to get your business off the ground. You can do this now on sites like Launcht.org, which focuses on social entrepreneurs and socially responsible projects, or on ThreeRevolutions, which focuses on sustainable agriculture and food projects. (Another site, the William James Foundation, expects to introduce a crowdfunding platform by early September as part of a business plan competition.)

I think sites like these offer a great way to start building a following and to assess whether anyone cares about your product or service. If you do this, you may have a crowd in place when equity crowdfunding comes along while others will still be looking for theirs.

2) If you are successful with the current model, you can use the money you raise to prove your concept, earn revenue and let your customers guide you. Then use public relations to expose your success, as I discussed in an earlier post.

3) Meanwhile, pay attention as the rule-making proceeds. Take this time to prepare for a crowdfunding offering around the middle of 2013. You will need to be ready to issue shares of your company to a potentially large number of shareholders. You will need to prepare financial statements for review and you will have to be ready to offer a valuation of your company. There will be other considerations, but if you’re ready with these pieces, you’ll be in good shape to move quickly.

Tom Szaky is the chief executive of TerraCycle, which is based in Trenton.

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/21/its-not-too-soon-to-think-about-crowdfunding/?partner=rss&emc=rss

You’re the Boss Blog: How Much Information Do You Share With Employees?

Courtesy of TerraCycle

Sustainable Profits

The challenges of a waste-recycling business.

Do you tell your employees everything that’s going on? Or only what you think they need to know? I have grappled with this question since I started managing a business.

Early on, I leaned toward limiting the information as I didn’t want people worrying about something that wasn’t their job and becoming distracted and unproductive. The problem was that when challenges came up I felt pretty much alone on them — and the staff was left guessing what was happening. Predictably, the lack of information fueled rumors and damaged morale.

Over the last decade of leading TerraCycle, however, my mindset has slowly migrated to the other side of this question. Today, I’m inclined to give as much transparency as possible. I say as much as possible because we don’t really give total transparency. Human-resource matters (such as company payroll or stock options), legal matters (of all kinds) and certain financial matters (like merger deals we’re working on) are not shared with the entire team. Instead they are shared with those who have responsibility over them.

But outside of these areas, our transparency is proactive and constant. All of our employees see everything — from what we invoiced that month to positive and negative changes with our clients — and they see it in great detail. Two years ago, we started a weekly reporting structure that requires every employee to send a weekly report to his or her manager. The manager comments back to the employee and then compiles the reports into a master departmental report.

This master report is then sent to every employee in the business, every two weeks. One week we do our United States departments, the following week we do international. I review each report and write detailed feedback to each department — trying to be very frank — and send that feedback is also sent to every employee. As a result, Mechi, who manages public relations for TerraCycle Argentina, will receive the same reports as Michael, our global vice president of brigades.

The benefits of this method have been astronomical. All of our 100 employees know exactly what is going on and can learn from what other departments are doing. It has created a feeling of ownership and trust, and it has fostered communication. It also brings issues to the forefront much faster than ever before and serves as our critical feedback engine — the feedback given by myself and by managers is not just fluff. So employees always know how they are doing and how their performance compares to their peers. (A friend of mine, David Hassel, recently started a company called 15Five.com, which automates this process.)

For example, we had a major retail success in Mexico earlier this year that involved Colgate and Wal-Mart. We deployed oral care waste collection programs (for your toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes) in every Wal-Mart in Mexico. Because of the weekly report procedure, our employs in other countries were able to see the program progress from planning to execution and were able to keep their local Colgate contacts up to speed, creating excitement and opportunities to do similar programs in other countries.

While we have not yet achieved 100 percent transparency, we have turned a non-transparent system into one that is as transparent as I think we can go.

Tom Szaky is the chief executive of TerraCycle, which is based in Trenton.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=01328c7426200c4d091399590080ace0